Rising to the challenge
Fourteen years ago, I started to read about climate change, at a time when few people were aware of the problem. As an environmental photographer I decided to do something. I organised a specific climate change photo shoot to Alaska. I documented glacial retreat, permafrost melt, forest fires, and the march north of the Spruce Bark Beetle. One aspect of the trip has stayed with me and is forever in my mind. I spent a week on a tiny island between Alaska and Siberia called Shishmaref. This remote island (more people climb Everest every year than visit Shishmaref) is home to around 600 Inuits. As hunter gatherers their carbon footprint is tiny. This was the first time that I realised something that I have come to see time and time again, and that is, those least responsible for climate change are most impacted by it. The inuits houses were being washed into the sea, as the sea ice that used to form around their island home around late September, wasn't forming till maybe Christmas time. Any storms coming through before the island became ice locked, were knocking huge chunks out of the island. I was privileged to meet J J Weyiouanna considered by many to be the world's first refugee from climate change.
I returned from Alaska having witnessed so many obvious signs of climate change and a rapidly changing Arctic, that I was determined to continue to document the story.
My next trip was to Tuvalu, a tiny coral atol nation that was being swamped by sea level rise. One of the smallest countries in the world, it will probably be the first country to disappear entirely due to climate change. My trip was to coincide with the highest, king tides of the year. What I witnessed was horrifying, at the highest point of the tide, with a flat calm sea, the middle of the island was 4 feet under water.
Two trips in and I knew this had to be my lives work. I then spent the next thirteen years travelling to every continent on the planet to document the impacts of climate change and the rise of renewable energy. In that time I have seen more images of environmental destruction than I care to remember, but I have also seen images of hope, where communities are coming together to tackle the problem.
Fourteen years on, having amassed the world's single largest collection of climate change images, it was time to collate 500 of the best images into a book. A successful crowd funding campaign raised sufficient funds to self publish "Images From a Warming Planet".
The book has come out to some amazing reviews. Jonathon Porritt called it "an extraordinary collection of images and a powerful call to action". Sir Tim Smit, "This magnificent photo essay throws down the gauntlet, the choice is ours but the scale of the game is here made visible". Emma Thompson, "This book is essential reading".
I am committed to spending the rest of my days trying to communicate the need for urgent and effective action, it is our only chance to avoid the worst excesses of climate change. To document climate change on every continent on the planet was an ambitious undertaking, my next plan is equally ambitious. We need to make decision makers really aware of the scale of the problem. To that end I would like to get a copy of the book to every Member of Parliament in the UK and if possible every world leader. Having self financed the entire image caption phase of the project, I need a sponsor to cover this next vital phase.
I have been overwhelmed by the support I have had from thousands of people on Linkedin in helping to spread the message. My appeal now is to ask if there is anyone out there who would like to help, or perhaps a company that would like to put their name to this project and support it. My hope is together, we can make a real difference.
As a final footnote, as "Images from a Warming Planet" went to press, I heard that the Inuits of Shishmaref as a community had voted to abandon the island that has been their home for thousands of years.
Ashley Cooper is a Professional Photographer, who has spent the last 14 years documenting the impact of climate change on the world. Ashley also runs www.globalwarmingimages.net the world's only climate change photo agency.
Impact are proud to support Ashley's book "Images from a Warming Planet".